The Power of Design

Consumers of tomorrow expect brands to inspire them and express their values so well that being a customer should be a source of pride and joy for them. – Denise Lee Yohn

People often misconstrue design as simply the way something looks and they forget that design impacts the way we feel. It is the difference between the Grand Canyon at sunrise and a giant hole in the ground. The product, message or, in this case, location hasn’t changed, but great design changes the way you feel.

Think about the iPhone. It’s popular because of the design. Owning an Apple product makes you feel a certain way. Holding an iPhone in your hand feels a certain way. It would be just as effective if the phones had square corners instead of rounded corners, but the design feels thoughtful. Almost all cell phones these days offer the same features: call, text, email, apps, even voice-operated assistants, but Apple has truly extended beyond technology and into a belief system for some.

Keep in mind, design is not your brand. Design is the conscious effort to create a product, place or message that communicates a feeling. Brand is how you consistently blend great design with impactful messaging to communicate with the world. They may be intertwined, but they are not the same thing.

To be successful in any sector of the community, not-for-profit, business, faith-based, government or education, we have to extend great design. We have to be able to get our audiences to feel our message instead of just hearing, reading or watching it if we want to separate ourselves from the pack.

A great leader who really understands the importance of design is my friend Reid Ryan, president of the Houston Astros. Ryan talks about designing the fan experience every step of the way, beginning when a fan first steps into the parking lot. The intentionality of the design extends throughout the ballpark – how the seats look, where the concession stands are located, what’s on the walls in the concourse – and sticks with you even during the trip back home. He is most definitely focused on how you experience your time and how that experience makes you feel so that you not only have a great time, but also so he can fill the seats of the stadium and build a successful business.


 As I write this, I have just returned from spending a few hours with three-star General William Pagonis, where he reminded those of us in the meeting that all organizations have multiple constituencies – customers, investors, members, boards, families, employees, the list goes on and on. He shared that one of the biggest priorities throughout his career with the Army, as president of Sears logistics and now with Walgreen’s, was to design products and services to meet the needs of customers or they would find someone else to deliver the experience. We have to extend design to allow people to not only feel our message, but to own the piece of our organization that is important and relevant to them.

Creating an authentic experience for the users of your products and services is critically important; frankly it is a differentiating factor in most cases. How does this apply to my work of economic development? An acre of land is an acre of land, but how we design the potential utilization of that land, how we assist companies in designing a program to allow them to create jobs is really the difference between success and failure for us.

A better question is: how does this apply to your work?

Always Forward.

Noblesse Oblige

bloom where you are planted

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. - Luke 12:48 NIV Noblesse oblige is a French term that was shared with me by a friend, Steve Cummings, … [Continue reading]